I admit it — I’m a LeBron James fan. I think he’s better than Kobe, better than what he just showed in last week’s Eastern Conference semifinals and better than the lambasting he’s been receiving from critics in the wake of Cleveland’s recent playoff exit. Funny how James’ last two playoff games have now prompted many to question his heart and desire and stamp his career as an underachiever. Maybe he was hurt, maybe it was something else (and the rumors are wild) but for a man that averages 31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists when facing playoff elimination, I’m not ready to say he doesn’t have the heart to be great.

Regardless of your position, you have to admit that James is a phenomenon, a once-in-a lifetime talent in the same breath as some of the NBA’s past legends, just without the hardware. Personally, I think James is the Michael Jordan of his era; a revolutionary player that wows observers, strikes fear in opponents and commands respect as one of, if not the best, basketball players in the league. But then there’s that pesky argument of championship rings and title T-shirts and blah, blah, blah, which James is going to have to eventually answer to one day. And for a 25-year old who has already bagged more individual accomplishments than most players achieve in a lifetime, it’s time for ‘Bron to go into full championship- or- bust mode. And that’s why it’s time for him to bid adieu to his hometown and escape for greener pastures.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful for ‘Bron to bring a banner to the Buckeye State (say that three times)? Yes, of course, but not at the expense of a diminishing reputation. Look at all the heat he’s taken for the last two years while a bumbling coach, a laughable crew of sidekicks and outstanding playoff numbers get thrown to the wayside. With James’ free agency on the horizon, commitment or championships are his only two options. But for as long as he remains in Cleveland, he’ll always be hard pressed to find the help he needs to achieve the latter.

Cleveland isn’t exactly Chicago, not quite New York and it’s not as warm as Los Angeles or Miami. Other than LeBron’s shadow, what incentive would a headline-free agent have to sign a long-term deal to play in a Midwest town with no beaches, crucially cold winters and few tourist attractions? Besides loyalty, I’m struggling to find reasons why James should even remain there. LeBron’s free agency puts Cleveland in a lose-lose situation. He probably won’t resign unless he knows help is on the way and a marquee-free agent(s) or head coach isn’t going to sign there unless they know James is coming back.

But LeBron could make it easy on himself and just bolt for a team he knows will give him the best chance to compete for a title. He’s already done more for himself as well as the state of Ohio than most people could’ve asked for. Now the consensus is asking for titles, and leaving home is his best chance in fulfilling those wishes.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO